Our Conversion Story: Part II

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Our Conversion Story // Carrots for Michaelmas

(In Which I Try to Prove St. Thomas Aquinas Wrong and Fail. Obviously.) (Catch up on Part I here.)

In late high school I felt drawn to the Catholic Church for aesthetic reasons. But I ignored my attraction to it because I didn’t think the Church could possibly be true. I had so many misconceptions about Catholic doctrine from growing up as a southern Protestant gal. However, while I was attending the largest Baptist university in the world (ironic, I know), slowly, slowly, my mind and heart opened to the Church.

I started reading many of the Church Fathers for my religion classes and Great Text classes. As I studied and wrestled with the ideas in the texts, I found my obstacles to conversion slowly crumbling. I remember two papers in particular that deeply altered my views. One was a paper I wrote on St. Thomas Aquinas. I set out to prove him wrong on some point of Catholic doctrine. Looking back, it strikes me as hilarious. Prove St. Thomas wrong? What was I thinking? How embarrassingly arrogant. Anyhow, I got half way through the paper and realized that St. Thomas was right after all (obviously) and that some of my conceptions of Christianity were startlingly without foundation.

The other paper was about theological texts behind the symbolism of two artistic depictions of Our Lady. As I pored over books about the development of Marian doctrine such as the Perpetual Virginity, I was shocked to realize that it was not, as I had always supposed, an invention of the High Middle Ages, but present in the early writings of the Church Fathers. I started to wonder if the Catholic Church was not only beautiful, but truly One, Holy, and Apostolic.

So, part of our journey to the Church was being introduced to the truth and beauty of Catholicism by reading the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Daniel was reading the same works and we talked often of what they must mean. But we also read Enlightenment and modern thinkers in our program and realized that many of our Protestant ideals and beliefs were not scriptural at all, but were grounded in the materialist and individualistic philosophies that sprang from the Enlightenment. When we actually read the works of Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, we realized we could not agree with them. Furthermore, even Luther had a much higher view of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin than I had ever been presented with as a Protestant, so how did the Protestant Church get so far from even the reformer’s teachings?

But really, it was the Holy Eucharist that drew me most deeply to the Church.

I attended a Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart when I was visiting Notre Dame to give a paper on Jane Austen my senior year. There is nothing intellectual about my experience at this Mass. I simply felt drawn to the Blessed Sacrament. Almost unbearably. It was almost physically painful. It felt as if I had come home and I was dizzy with hunger but I couldn’t sit down at the dinner table where a feast was prepared. I realized that I believed, really believed, that the bread and wine were the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. That he was offering Himself to me, and that I was unprepared to accept him.

Daniel and I talked about all these things often. But neither of us came right out and said that we knew we would convert (although separately, we had made that decision). I was afraid that he didn’t feel the same way as I did, and I dreaded the idea of worshipping at different places and being separated by our faith. I was surprised and relieved when one day he said, “We can’t stay Protestant. In the next few years we will have to become either Catholic or Orthodox.” He was surprised when I wholeheartedly agreed…

Tune in tomorrow for Part III!

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  1. says

    I love reading conversion stories. I hope to type mine up next spring after RCIA! I agree that I found out a lot of things I was supposed to believe as a Protestant that I didn’t agree with growing up, before Catholicism even became an option (I married one). I remember having a heated debate with my confirmation class about Works vs. Faith and now I can see how it set me down this road.

  2. LMM says

    I’m really enjoying reading these installments. It’s always fascinating to me when couples covert together. And isn’t it amazing – a rigorous, intellectual tradition wherein there is an irrefutable answer to every. single. question, combined with an experience so overwhelmingly powerful, beautiful and true (the Eucharist). I don’t know which one I felt the pull of first, or if they are too intertwined to think of separately, but I know that I need them both! (long story very short – I was baptized Catholic, raised in the Church until I was 5 or 6, when my parents left for a non-denominational Evangelical church, which I fell away from, only to return to the Church and RCIA in college.). Can’t wait to read the rest!

    • Haley says

      Thanks! I’m glad your enjoying our tale. It is amazing. So amazing. Sometimes I think that I could be convinced of the truth of our faith just because it’s so incredibly beautiful.

  3. Catherine says

    Hey, wow – I’m glad to see that Orthodoxy got a mention! I sometimes feel like they don’t get a look in on the whole Catholic/Protestant thing. My in-laws are Orthodox (hubby was raised Orthodox) and I spent a year exploring and seriously considering converting to Orthodoxy. In the end I couldn’t do it, but I have a deep and abiding respect for that tradition and its many valuable insights into what it means to live a holy Christian life. Fortunately for me, hubby was never too attached to the Orthodox church, so I was fortunate enough to be able to be married (and to baptize all our children) in my church.

    • Haley says

      So true! I think Orthodoxy is generally left out. I had a wonderful Bulgarian Orthodox roommate in college that taught me so much.

  4. says

    This is one of the reasons why I am drawn to the Church. We are in Journey of Faith classes now. I long to be able to partake, truly, in eating the Body and drinking the Blood, not just as a symbolic act, but in Spirit and in Truth. I love Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to be in the Real Presence of the Lord. We had reached a point in our spiritual journey of, “Ho, hum, been there, done that,” as we have been in a variety of evangelical and mainline Protestant denominations and it seemed that spiritual growth was based on the teachings before the division of church history at the Reformation. What we’re learning is akin to fitting the last pieces into the puzzle–answers to questions that Protestants don’t answer because it interferes with their theology. I can’t wait–it truly is like coming home.

  5. Jenni says

    Did you go to Baylor? The largest baptist university in the world? I went there and then later converted to Catholicism as well! When did you graduate?

  6. Dessica says

    Haley, your description of how drawn you are to the Blessed Sacrament is dead on how I feel! My conversion experience began this past July. We’re still in RCIA and every Mass I feel like a little kid with my nose pressed against the window of the candy store and insufficient funds in my pocket. I can’t wait to be received into full Communion with the church. Thank you for your story!

  7. Carrie says

    Thank you for sharing your story! It brings up many things that I needed to hear. I actually attended the University of Notre Dame, probably a couple of years before you visited, and sang in the basilica every Sunday as a choir member. I wish I could say that I ever had a spiritual experience as powerful as you did. As a life-long Catholic, I think it’s so easy to become inured to the miracle taking place at every Mass. The routine and familiarity can dull that sense of wonder over time. Having the Eucharist described through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time, though, really helped to remind me what an awesome event I’m being invited to each Sunday.
    I recently had my first child, and deciding how my husband I want to live out our faith and model it for her has suddenly begun to matter in a way that it never did before. Though I’ve taken various theology and catechism classes over the years, I’ve never gotten down to it and read Augustine or Aquinas or most of the doctors of the church. In some ways I’ve often felt that being born into the Catholic Church robs people of that powerful, defining conversion experience. Your conversion story reminds me, though, that we are all called to read and learn and continually renew our faith no matter how long ago we were baptized. You may be a newer member of the Church, but your passion and your perspective are so important, especially to those who have lost their focus or forgotten that holiness is something to actively strive for. Thank you!

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